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The Best of Baselworld 2019

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore

 
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona

This year’s special edition of the Cosmograph Daytona is rather unconventional. Much like 2018’s Everose gold version, of which bezel is decorated with sapphires in all the colours of the rainbow spectrum, this new version is a maximalist take on the feted racing chronograph. Here, its emblematic tachymetric scale is recalled with 36 trapeze-cut diamonds, encircling its face. The dial, in paved black lacquer, feature chronograph counters that are set in black lacquer and diamonds. The hour markers come in the form of eight diamonds in 18-carat yellow gold settings. The 40-millimetre Oyster case means it’s waterproof to a depth of 100 metres. This one is quipped with calibre 4130, an in-house mechanical chronograph movement, of which features a blue Parachrom hairspring. It’s a Rolex-made paramagnetic alloy that makes it up to 10 times more precise than the traditional hairspring in case of shocks. The self-winding module offers a power reserve of 72 hours.

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Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Carbon

In a year of notable watchmaking anniversaries, the half-century of Zenith’s El Primero movement warrants particular attention. First revealed in 1969, the high-frequency, 36,000 vibrations-per-hour chronograph has went on to fuel watches made by the likes of Rolex, Tag Heuer and Dior — but it still is Zenith’s very own crowning jewel. This is one of its leading highlights: a carbon-cased version of the Defy. Its design inspired by the ’70s, the brand’s statement acknowledges it as the epitome of its “neo-futuristic, architectural design ethos.” The beating heart of this model is the renewed El Primero 21 calibre, which beats at an even higher rate of 50 hertz, or 360,000 vibrations-per-hour, hence its capability to measure time mechanically to the nearest one-one hundredth of a second — easily making it the world’s most accurate chronograph calibre produced in series.

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Patek Philippe 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar

The 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar is an anomaly in Patek Philippe’s roster. Deviating from the precious metal case typically used in the Calatrava series, the 5212A’s case is made in stainless steel. And as its name suggests, the timepiece shows the day of the week, the date, but also the number of the week in the year. The weeks are numbered in accordance with the ISO 8610 standard, its mechanism takes into account that occasionally a year may contain either 53 or 52 weeks. According to Patek, the typography is singularly based on one of the watch designers’ handwriting.

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Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori

Bulgari’s snake-inspired Serpenti is a signature leitmotif, appearing in jewellery and handbags, yet it comes to life most vividly as a timepiece. Its wraparound bracelet that tapers from snakehead to a tail that coils around the wrist is perhaps the most recognisable forms in women’s watch design. This year, the house releases its third generation of the Serpenti watch: the Serpenti Seduttori. It features a drop-head case design, a nod to 2010’s Serpenti Tubogas, but the 18-karat rose gold bracelet is an entirely new addition to the line. Inspired by snakeskin scales, its bracelet’s hexagonal links create a repeating motif on the wrist. All of them come in house quartz movements.

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Tag Heuer Autavia

At Tag Heuer was the second revival of the Autavia line. Rather than a single piece as in 2017, this year’s included a whole collection — seven pieces, to be exact. The cockpit-inspired racer watch, which has been around since 1963, undergoes a facelift and an updated movement featuring Tag Heuer’s Isograph carbon-composite hairspring. The company says it delivers improved performance because the material is antimagnetic and “virtually unaffected by gravity and shock.”

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Gucci Grip

Gender-neutrality is a style watchword of the moment, and now it has extended to Gucci’s watchmaking division. At Baselworld, the brand celebrates the arrival of a new unisex watch line: the Grip. The four quartz timepieces in the collection shakes up the traditional routine of time-telling. Each of its rounded square case doesn’t come with an analog clock face. Instead, there are three small openings, of which through these, rotating disks indicate the hour, minute and date, while the rest remains hidden behind engraved cases in gold and silver. The Grip watch is available in PVD and calf leather straps.

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Bell & Ross BR03-92 Diver Black Ceramic

First introduced in 2017, the BR03-92 isn’t the brand’s inaugural dive watch, but it is the brand’s first dive watch that comes in its signature square case. This year, the model expands with several new reiterations, with the all-black matte ceramic at the forefront. Alluding to its aeronautical roots, ceramic is a material predominantly used in aerospace rocket parts. It’s virtually scratch-proof and also thermo-regulated, letting the case adjust to body temperature almost instantly. As a diver watch, it’s water-resistance goes as deep as 300 metres, while its numerals and indices are filled with Super-LumiNova, a substance that creates a subtle glow when seen in darkness.

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Tudor Black Bay P01

The Tudor Black Bay P01 is a new model based on a ‘60s prototype diver watch that was proposed to the US Navy in the ’60s. The design needed to meet a set of specifications decreed by the American government, and supposedly, “a hitherto unseen function” was patented for the design. Prototypes were produced under the code name “Commando”, yet alas, a different model was eventually adopted. In 2019, the Tudor Black Bay P01 is a reincarnation of the study’s first prototype. Recalling the archival piece’s function, the lug acts as a lock to secure the bidirectional rotating bezel in position. Its 42-millimetre satin steel case features a crown set at four o’clock. It comes fitted with a domed matte-black dial and “snowflake” hands, a signature to the house’s diver watches since 1969. While driving it is the COSC-certified MT5612 calibre, boasting a 70-hour power reserve.

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Chopard Happy Sport Oval

Marking the Happy Sport watch’s 25th anniversary, Chopard revisits its very-first design in 1993, of which was paired with a dainty “galet” bracelet made of interwoven pebbled links. This time, it explores new proportions: its face, either in 18-carat rose gold or stainless steel, now bears an oval shape, spanning 29mm in width and a little over 31mm in height. On its dial, diamonds are scattered among the numerals; its twirling formation an allusion to étoile ballet dancers’ graceful movement.

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Chanel J12

As Chanel mourns the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, its longstanding and prolific creative director, the house has put the invention of another of its former feted tastemakers in the spotlight at Basel. The androgynous J12 was designed by Jacques Helleu, the late artistic director who spent more than 40 years at Chanel before his death in 2007. His sailing-inspired, all-black (and later on, all-white), all-ceramic watch put Chanel’s watchmaking division on the map. This year, the icon has been updated. The redesign, even on close inspection, doesn’t come easy to spot. These understated updates include a thinner bezel and crown, as well as redesigned numerals and indexes. Behind, is Kenissi’s in-house automatic movement, the first of Chanel’s done by the movement manufacturer after Chanel acquired a stake just a few months ago. With these ultra subtle visual changes, the J12 is still very much the J12.

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This year’s Baselworld edition was to be the last time it was held in March. In 2020, the annual watch fair is slated to follow right after the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie — better known as SIHH — in Geneva for a massive doubleheader in the span of 10 days in April and May. In spite of conversations that heavily swirled around the absentees — Harry Winston, Omega and Longines among them — the remaining heavyweights exhibited an arsenal of noteworthy accolades: from Chanel with its reinvention of the J12 to Zenith’s tribute to the El Primero, its world record-breaking movement. Above, revisit the watchmaking highlights of 2019’s Baselworld.